Rural Missouri - June 2011 - (Page 8)

Electric cooperatives began wiring rural Missouri 75 years ago In the beginning Above: Linemen from Platte-Clay Electric Cooperative, Kearney, turn on the power at this northwest Missouri farm. This scene was repeated across the state as rural electrification became a reality. Below: Early Boone Electric lineman Kenneth Rapp installs a meter for Ashland-area residents Nora and Walter Forbis, while Sammy Rippeto watches. by Jim McCarty jmccarty@ruralmissouri.coop manager, told the REA story to all who would listen. He visited neighbors in their fields and held meetings at the county courthouse. Organized eight days after their neighbors in Palmyra, Lewis County had a line in place and ready to be energized a year later. That historic day came in July 1937 at the B.L. Anderson farm in Monticello. “The day the lights came on” was cause for celebration. At Ozark Electric in Mount Vernon, a 56-piece band kicked off the ceremony when the lines were energized in November 1938. More than 4,000 people took part in the all-day event. The story was the same at electric cooperatives across Missouri. Determined individuals travelled the countryside, preaching the gospel of rural electrification and encouraging farmers to part with $5 for a membership in the cooperative. That was no easy task as one of Boone Electric’s original incorporators, Bud Gardner, related. An initial skeptic, Gardner told Boone County Extension Agent Wendell Holman that electricity would never come to his farm. Pointing to smoke coming from Columbia’s municipal power plant, he said, “It’s 11 miles to that smoke you see, and there isn’t any way you’re ever going to get electricity clear out here. You’re wasting your time . . . and mine, too.” Despite his initial reluctance, Gardner later became one of the leading proponents of the cooperative plan. Even while muttering “it will never Y ou flip the switch and the light comes on. Today, that’s almost a given. But in 1936, rural people looking for the light could only gaze at the horizon where the cities were and wonder if electricity would ever come their way. This month, electric cooperatives in Missouri begin celebrating the 75th anniversary of rural electrification in the state. To truly appreciate how electric cooperatives wired the countryside, one must return to the early 20th century. The 1920 Census showed that the nation had 6 million farms, but only about 7 percent had electricity. That condition stood out in contrast to the rest of the civilized world, where 90 percent of Japanese farms, almost 95 percent of French farms and nearly 100 percent of Dutch farms were electrified. It took the Great Depression of the 1930s and President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs — including the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) — to jump-start progress for rural people. With REA loaning money to build the lines, and county extension agents getting things started, talk of cooperatives to provide electricity began in earnest across the state. Some confusion surrounds which electric cooperative was the first in Missouri. At least three systems can claim some credit for the honor. In the fall of 1935, residents of northeast Missouri near Palmyra were meeting in the one-room Todd School for the purpose of organizing what would become Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative. Front-page stories in the Palmyra Spectator throughout 1936 called Missouri Rural Electric Cooperative the state’s first. That claim was backed up by this headline in the May 1960 Rural Electric Missourian, the original name for Rural Missouri: “Missouri Rural — First Co-op Organized.” However, if one goes by the official filing at the secretary of state’s office, Boone Electric Cooperative in Columbia was actually first. Boone Electric filed its articles of incorporation on June 11, 1936. Missouri Rural didn’t file until five days later. Boone also gets credit for the first loan from REA. Approved in May 1937, the $116,000 loan financed construction of 127 miles of line. But getting organized didn’t turn on the lights. Bragging rights for energizing the state’s first REA line go to Lewis County Electric Cooperative located in the northeast corner. At every electric cooperative, there was at least one mover and shaker who got the ball rolling and kept it that way. Lewis County was no exception. A Monticello-area farmer named Harry Ward had heard about the growing rural electric movement, and he decided to get involved. Ward, who became the co-op’s first 8 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - June 2011

Rural Missouri - June 2011
Contents
Comments
Columns
In the beginning
The Missouri Lyon hunt
Mail Bag
Beaver Creek Paylake & Fish Fry
Out of the Way Eats
Drowned
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
In the middle of everywhere
Marketplace
Around Missouri
Restoring Stover
Neighbors
Just4Kids

Rural Missouri - June 2011

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